The Meaning of Life

What Is The Meaning Of Life?
This is a question that has been asked since humans first becameĀ  conscious intelligent beings. It is arguably the most powerful questionĀ  in philosophy, and the one that no agreed upon answer. Different philosophers, scientists and historians have all attempted to give their spin to answer the question ā€œwhat is the meaning of life?ā€.Ā  I am going to examine some of these ideas, break downĀ  the question into smaller pieces, and articulate my own response which has formulated over the past 8 years of my existential dread to figure it out and live my life optimally.
  • *Before we begin this journey, we must first define two important and relevant terms; the concepts ā€œlifeā€ and ā€œmeaningā€.**
Letā€™s first look at three definitions for the word ā€œlifeā€:
1. The condition that distinguishes animals and plantsĀ  from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction,Ā  functional activity, and continual change preceding death.
2. The existence of an individual human being or animal.
3. The period between the birth and death of a living thing, especially a human being.
Letā€™s now look at three definitions for the word ā€œmeaningā€:
1. What is meant by a concept?
2. What is the significance of a concept?
3. What is the important or worthwhile quality of a concept?
  • *Now that we have defined both concepts, letā€™s break things down even further.**
When we are asking ā€œwhat is the meaning of life?ā€, we are essentially asking the following 3 questions:
1. What is life?
2. What is lifeā€™s significance?
3. How does one live life in the best possible manner?
After having answered these questions, we will be able to synthesizeĀ  all of our ideas and create a response to the question that is theĀ  subject of this article.
  • *What is life?**
As mentioned earlier, life is the condition that distinguishesĀ  animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity forĀ  growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual changeĀ  preceding death.
  • *How did it all get started?**
Many scientists believe that chemical reactions led to RNA, which wasĀ  the first molecule on Earth to self-replicate and begin the process ofĀ  evolution that led to more advanced forms of life, and over billions of years led to the human being (and you right now).
Humans (homo Sapiens) evolved from a species known as Homo erectus. Everything changed during the cognitive revolution that occurred between 30,000 to 70,000 years ago.
It is thanks to the cognitive revolution that we are the dominant, intelligent and conscious beings that we know ourselves to be today, and it is thanks to our consciousness that we are able to askĀ  questions such as ā€œwhat is the meaning of life?ā€.
And thatā€™s not the only deep question we came up with.
Are we special? Are we the only intelligent and conscious entities inĀ  the universe or in the multiverse? Is anything ā€œrealā€, or are we living in a simulation? Does God exist? Is there life after death? How do allĀ  of the complexities of the Universe work? Is there a deeper purpose to life or are we merely just bodies of carbon living in a world that is random and does not care about us?
These questions are big and grand and scary because they have no direct way to answer them. Science can only answer so much.
We can only take what we understand about life, about existence and about the Universe and give it our best.
After all, the way your world is really created is truly a mystery.
So us being the smart ole homo sapien can come up with some clever tricks to make these big scary questions make sense. We can accept our ā€œbest answer so farā€ so we can move on and focus on what we CAN do, and what we CAN figure out. And we can take in every possible scenario of how reality works and come up with strong opinions that are loosely held.
Are we special?
If it makes you feel better to believe you are, believe it, if it makes you feel better to believe we arnt, believe that.
Are we the only intelligent and conscious entities in the universe or in the multiverse?
Believer whichever makes you more excited, but stay open to being wrong.
Is anything ā€œrealā€, or are we living in a simulation?
Again, whatever makes you feel better, but come to terms with the possibility of the other choice being true.
Does God exist?
Is there life after death?
How do allĀ  of the complexities of the Universe work?
Is there a deeper purpose to life or are we merely just bodies of carbon living in a world that is random and does not care about us?
The progress that we have madeĀ  in the last few hundred years has been remarkable. With every year thatĀ  passes, we understand a little bit more about the Universe and aboutĀ  ourselves.
We are curious beings and we are wired to want to explore, to askĀ  questions, and to try to find answers to the mysteries of the world.
  • *What is lifeā€™s significance?**
We do not know whether we are merely just bodies ofĀ  carbon living in a vast apathetic and random Universe, or whether thereĀ  is a deeper purpose to our lives and to our existence. With that beingĀ  said, life is still meaningful and significant based on the fact that without it, no one would be able to experience or interpret the very existence of the universe itself.
Similar to how machines and robots are wired to think and behave inĀ  certain ways, human beings are wired to want and desire certain things.Ā  If there is one thing I want to emphasize, itā€™s thatĀ  while technology and culture have progressed drastically over the lastĀ  100 years, we still have the same desires that we had thousands of yearsĀ  ago and we have not changed much biologically over that time span. TheĀ  difference between today and two thousand years ago is that we areĀ  now satisfying our desires and needs in newer and more complex ways.
  • *Physical survival.**
Survival is the deepest and most important instinct that we have. AsĀ  mentioned earlier in this article, for most of our species history weĀ  were somewhere in the middle of the animal food chain. Without goodĀ  health and a good environment, life is difficult and filled withĀ  suffering. No baby is born ready to give up and commit suicide. It takesĀ  a process full of corruption and suffering for a human being to get toĀ  that point. Humans and animals are wired to want to live. As AbrahamĀ  Maslow points out in his hierarchy of needs, physiological and safetyĀ  needs are the foundation of his pyramid.
While physical survival used to be the act of running from a tiger orĀ  getting shelter in a cave, physical survival today in the western worldĀ  is eating healthy, making money, investing, going to the gym, attainingĀ  influence and power, sleeping well, etc.
  • *Reproduction.**
Reproduction is survival in a different form; survival of our genesĀ  and of our specie. We are wired to want to procreate. Evolution made theĀ  act of sex enjoyable. Our desire for reproduction has not changed.Ā  Whatā€™s changed is that as a result of newer technologies, safety andĀ  security, and world dominance, people realize that taking care ofĀ  children is a time-consuming lifestyle and choose to focus on theirĀ  other needs and goals first, keeping their desire for children asĀ  something to explore later in their lives. Thanks to technologicalĀ  advancements such as birth control and abortion, people have moreĀ  control over their lives and are able to enjoy the benefits of sexĀ  without its consequences.
  • *Belongingness and Love.**
Humans beings are social animals. We are not meant to live inĀ  isolation. In large part, the way we learn, understand ourselves and theĀ  world, maintain our health and sanity, and think about and solveĀ  problems is by communicating and cooperating with others. There is aĀ  concept that is known as Dunbarā€™s number. It is essentially a claim thatĀ  humans can maintain no more than 150 friendships and connections at aĀ  time. Yuval Noah Harariā€™s talks about this in detail in his bookĀ  ā€œSapiensā€.
Yuval went on to explain that the reason we are able to cooperate inĀ  large groups and dominate the world despite our cognitive limit to theĀ  number of people with whom we can maintain stable social relationships,Ā  is because of our ability to connect around shares beliefs, such asĀ  stoicism, Christianity, capitalism, money, etc. This shows just howĀ  important connecting with others is for us. In fact, our ability toĀ  communicate and connect with others is one of the biggest reasons how weĀ  went from being in the middle of the animal food chain to the civilizedĀ  and dominant people we are today.
In connection with this desire to connect with others, we are alsoĀ  wired to want to love and to be loved. Love is crucial for a childā€™s development. Without adequate love atĀ  an early age during sensitive and critical periods, children developĀ  attachment issues that can affect them for the rest of their lives. ThisĀ  shows just how crucial love is for us. Even when we grow up and becomeĀ  teenagers and adults, we are still yearning for belongingness and love.Ā  It might be something as simple as having anxiety in school becauseĀ  we donā€™t feel as though we have good friends. It might be theĀ  experience of being depressed because a close family member passed awayĀ  and we regret not having told them how much we love them. It might beĀ  throwing a fun surprise birthday party for a best friend or siblingĀ  because of how much we cherish them.
Our desire and need to love and to be loved shows itself in numerousĀ  ways throughout our lives. Christopher McCandless wrote this before hisĀ  death, ā€œHappiness only real when sharedā€. This was coming from a man whoĀ  had escaped humanity his whole life and who lived his final days inĀ  isolation in the wilderness. Despite pushing people away his entireĀ  life, McCandless realized moments before his death that our lives areĀ  meaningless if we are not surrounded by loved ones.
Another important form of love is self-love. At the end of day, theĀ  only person that will be there with us at every moment of our lives isĀ  ourselves. It is therefore crucial to have a good relationship withĀ  ourselves. If we canā€™t love ourselves then how can we expect others toĀ  love us? Ayn Rand put this idea beautifully with this quote, ā€œTo say ā€˜IĀ  love youā€™ one must first know how to say the ā€˜Iā€™.ā€
  • *Curiosity.**
On the evening of 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from EuropeĀ withĀ  three ships. The explorer and navigator who completed four voyagesĀ  across the Atlantic Ocean is known today as one of the most importantĀ  figures in history, opening the way for widespread European explorationĀ  and the colonization of the Americas. His expeditions were the firstĀ  European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Christopher Columbus, as well as the thousands of others throughoutĀ  history who put their lives at risk for the sake of curiosity andĀ  exploration, did so because they did not want humanity to be foreverĀ  bounded by geography and ignorance. The Apollo Lunar Module EagleĀ  landing on the moon on July 20, 1969 is another example of humankindĀ  attempting to expend its horizons. History is filled with pioneers andĀ  giants from all fields; people like Socrates, Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaĀ  Vinci, Martin Luther King Jr, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk,Ā  etc.
Going out of our comfort zones, taking risks, being creative,Ā  expending our horizons, being curious, asking questions, trying newĀ  things, and exploring the earth and space is something that is deeplyĀ  ingrained in us. Our desire to explore and to be curious is somethingĀ  that sets us apart from all other living organisms; itā€™s what makes usĀ  unique.
Curiosity doesnā€™t always have to lead to world-changing events likeĀ  stepping on the moon or discovering America. Sometimes, curiosity can beĀ  something as simple as sitting down and writing a paper on a topic weĀ  find interesting. Curiosity can be the experience of taking a vacationĀ  and visiting countries and cultures we have never seen. Curiosity can beĀ  the decision to indulge in good habits and to stick to them despite theĀ  discomfort they may cause at first. Curiosity can be the process ofĀ  starting a business on an idea we are passionate about. Curiosity is allĀ  around us, and it is one of the most primal instincts that we have.Ā  Letā€™s embrace our curiosity and our desire for exploration, and letā€™sĀ  create lives that we will be proud of.
  • *Legacy.**
As mentioned earlier, one of the instincts that motivates us theĀ  instinct for survival. We have already talked about two forms ofĀ  survival in this article; physical survival and the survival of ourĀ  genes and of our specie. There is a third form of survival that controlsĀ  much of what we do in life; spiritual survival. Immortality is a desireĀ  that is primal to us. We have the gift of consciousness, but also itsĀ  curse. We are the only living organism that is able to imagine and thinkĀ  about its own death. We donā€™t want to die. Itā€™s in our nature to desireĀ  survival. For that reason, we try to stay healthy and to physicallyĀ  survive for as long as can.
However, physical survival is often not enough. We understandĀ  consciously that there will come a time when our bodies will no longerĀ  be able to function. We understand that we will physically die one day.Ā  For that reason, some people turn to religion and God and believe thatĀ  if they live a life following certain commandments and behaving inĀ  certain ways, then they will go to heaven and live for eternity. OthersĀ  understand that the afterlife is something that we donā€™t fullyĀ  understand. Is there an afterlife? What happens after death? DespiteĀ  physical death, will our spirits and souls live on?
These are all pertinent questions. We canā€™t control what happens toĀ  us after we die. We can control, however, what we do in this life. WeĀ  are not guaranteed the promise of heaven. For that reason, we must turnĀ  our attention to extending our lives here and now.
  • *Well-being.**
If there is one thing that almost all religions, philosophies, andĀ  schools of thought have in common, itā€™s that they aim to reduce suffering and increase well-being.
  • Well-being is the experience of health, happiness, and prosperity. It includes having good mental health, good life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and ability to manage stress.
The desires to reduce stress, and to experience happiness andĀ  prosperity are fundamental to who we are. Throughout much of ourĀ  speciesā€™ history, we experienced wars, diseases, natural catastrophes,Ā  etc. Christopher Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and authorĀ  wrote the following, ā€œOf the past 3,400 years,Ā humans have beenĀ entirelyĀ  at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded historyā€. ThisĀ  is a fascinating statistic.
As mentioned earlier, our desires for competition and status, and ourĀ  instinct to separate into groups are all part of what makes us human.Ā  Despite all the good that has come from those desires, there has alsoĀ  been a lot of suffering that has resulted from them. The world canĀ  sometimes be a cruel place filled with evil. It is for this reason thatĀ  so many religions and philosophies have attempting to figure out ways inĀ  which we can reduce suffering.
A large part of well-being has to do with health. Gut health, forĀ  example, is strongly correlated with mental health. It is for thisĀ  reason that people who have gut problems suffer in life satisfaction. ToĀ  be happy, healthy, and to prosper are goals that everyone has. A bigĀ  part of making progress towards those goals is combining a lot of theĀ  things that have already talked about in prior sections of this article.Ā  Are we living healthy lives? Are we constantly trying to learn more andĀ  expend our horizons? Do we feel loved and are we surrounded by peopleĀ  who cherish us? Are we working on our legacies and on projects thatĀ  excite us, or are we wasting our time and potential?
Happiness is not something that should be chased. The more we chaseĀ  happiness, the more miserable we will be. There is a great book aboutĀ  this topic called ā€œThe Language of Emotionsā€. Itā€™s important for us toĀ  understand that all emotions are equally important, and that eachĀ  emotion serves its own unique purpose. Anger, for example, allows us toĀ  create boundaries. Sadness allows us to release energy. Fear lets usĀ  know when we are in danger. We need to allow happiness to come as aĀ  by-product of a life well-lived, and when it does come, we need let itĀ  be free like a bird; it will come and go when it pleases.
Contentment is a far better thing to aim for. When we are content, weĀ  are grateful for everything that we have. With that being said, weĀ  still try to get a little bit better every day. Mindfulness is alsoĀ  important. In todayā€™s world of over-stimulation, instant gratification,Ā  and constant comparison, it is easy for us to spend much of our timeĀ  either stressing about the future or being depressed about the past.Ā  Itā€™s important to take a step back, to be grateful, and to ask ourselvesĀ  what we can do today to better our lives and to create good habits.
Finally, we need to understand that well-being is something that isĀ  unique to each of us. What motivates me and makes me happy, might beĀ  different than what motivates you and makes you happy. It is ourĀ  responsibility to have self-awareness, to understand ourselves, and toĀ  understand what drives us.
  • *How does one live life in the best possible manner?**
Letā€™s look at what some famous thinkers, philosophies, religions, and schools of thought have said about this.
  • *Stoicism.**
  • Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to meaning and happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain, by using oneā€™s mind to understand the world and to do oneā€™s part in natureā€™s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
Stoicism was the primary philosophy during the time of the RomanĀ  Empire. The beautiful thing about Stoicism is that arguably the two mostĀ  famous Stoics in history came from completely opposing situations andĀ  classes; Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, a man who was bornĀ  a slave. Despite their complete opposing life situations, both MarcusĀ  Aurelius and Epictetus wrote and talked about all of the same StoicĀ  virtues. In recent years, Stoicism has had a resurgence. MarcusĀ  Aureliusā€™ journal ā€œMeditationsā€ is now one of the most famous books inĀ  the world. Furthermore, books from modern writers such as Ryan HolidayĀ  have brought Stoicism into the mainstream.
  • *Existentialism.**
  • Existentialism is a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centers on the lived experience of the thinking, feeling, acting individual. In the view of the existentialist, the individualā€™s starting point has been called ā€œthe existential angst,ā€ a sense of dread, disorientation, confusion, or anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Existentialist thinkers frequently explore issues related to the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence.
French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus were some of the first and most important existentialists.
  • Sartre argued that a central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that individuals shape themselves by existing and cannot be perceived through preconceived categories, an ā€œessenceā€. The actual life of the individuals is what constitutes what could be called their ā€œtrue essenceā€ instead of an arbitrarily attributed essence others use to define them. Human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life.
  • *Epicureanism.**
  • Epicureanism is a system of philosophy founded around 307 BC based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest, sustainable pleasure in the form of tranquility and freedom from fear, and the absence of bodily pain through knowledge of the workings of the world and limiting desires.
  • Epicureanism argued that pleasure was the chief good in life. Hence, Epicurus advocated living in such a way as to derive the greatest amount of pleasure possible during oneā€™s lifetime yet doing so moderately in order to avoid the suffering incurred by overindulgence in such pleasure. Emphasis was placed on pleasures of the mind rather than on physical pleasures. Unnecessary and, especially, artificially produced desires were to be suppressed.
  • *Objectivism.**
  • Objectivism is a philosophical system developed by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand. Rand first expressed Objectivism in her fiction, most notably The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), and later in non-fiction essays and books. Rand described Objectivism as ā€œthe concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absoluteā€.
I read a large portion of the book ā€œThe Fountainheadā€ about a yearĀ  ago and I enjoyed it. This is one of the passages that has stuck withĀ  me.
  • ā€œIt is not in the nature of manā€“nor of any living entityā€“to start out by giving up, by spitting in oneā€™s own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whose rapidity differs from man to man. Some give up at the first touch of pressure; some sell out; some run down by imperceptible degrees and lose their fire, never knowing when or how they lost it. Then all of these vanish in the vast swamp of their elders who tell them persistently that maturity consists of abandoning oneā€™s mind; security, of abandoning oneā€™s values; practicality, of losing self-esteem. Yet a few hold on and move on, knowing that that fire is not to be betrayed, learning how to give it shape, purpose and reality. But whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of manā€™s nature and of lifeā€™s potential.ā€
The reason I like this passage so much is because it communicates inĀ  very clear and poetic terms the idea that a desire for meaning and that aĀ  desire for improvement and greatness are core elements of who we are.
  • *Logotherapy.**
  • Logotherapy was developed by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. Rather than power or pleasure, logotherapy is founded upon the belief that striving to find meaning in life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans. A short introduction to this system is given in Franklā€™s most famous book, Manā€™s Search for Meaning, in which he outlines how his theories helped him to survive his Holocaust experience and how that experience further developed and reinforced his theories.
  • According to Frankl, ā€œWe can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable sufferingā€ and that ā€œeverything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms ā€“ to choose oneā€™s attitude in any given set of circumstancesā€.
  • *My Thoughts.**
As can be seen, there exists many great schools of thoughts andĀ  philosophies. What almost all of them have in common is the emphasisĀ  they place on pursuing meaning. We live in a world filled with instantĀ  gratification, overstimulation, misinformation, censorship, anxiety andĀ  fearmongering. Furthermore, we live in a world and in an environmentĀ  that pedestalizes short-term harmful pleasure and makes it difficult toĀ  delay gratification and pursue meaningful projects and activities. It isĀ  our duty as individuals to take responsibility for our lives, to workĀ  to better ourselves in incremental fashion, to work to better the world,Ā  to try to enjoy the process of life, to love ourselves, and to pursueĀ  meaning rather than short-term detrimental pleasure.
As mentioned earlier in his article, the are many existential andĀ  philosophical questions that we are not able to answer. Perhaps with theĀ  advancement of science we will one day be able to better comprehend theĀ  complexities of the Universe. However, for the time being, we mustĀ  focus on what we can control as individuals and create frameworks forĀ  thinking and living that are helpful for our development.
I believe that a large part of the meaning of life is to liveĀ  according to our instincts; maintaining good health, being surrounded byĀ  people we love, working on our legacies, acquiring knowledge,Ā  transferring our knowledge across generations, procreating, and placingĀ  great importance on our well-being. However, itā€™s important to alsoĀ  understand that we are not chained by our instincts. Each of us haveĀ  something special in us that gives us the ability to think and to beĀ  creative. This ability to be flexible, to explore, to try new things, toĀ  learn from great thinkers and philosophers, to go outside of ourĀ  comfort zones, to take risk, to go against the grain, to be contrarians,Ā  to be creative, to think outside the box, and to constantly askĀ  questions and find solutions is what makes us special.
Going back to Viktor Frankl, one of my favorite quotes is theĀ  following, ā€œBetween stimulus and response there is a space. In thatĀ  space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies ourĀ  growth and our freedom.ā€
I want to emphasize once more that there is meaning in life and thatĀ  this meaning can be found all around us. We sometimes see people whoĀ  have fallen into nihilism. As someone who once fell into nihilism,Ā  perhaps I can shed some light on my experience and on why nihilism canĀ  be appealing.
  • Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence.
The reason I fell into nihilism was because I was going through aĀ  difficult time in my life. I had just moved cities and schools, and IĀ  had left behind all of my childhood friends and almost everything thatĀ  was a constant in my life. This happened when I was a young teenager andĀ  it was the worst experience of my life. At the time, I struggledĀ  greatly with understanding my emotions and with social anxiety. It tookĀ  many months for me to finally come to terms with my situation and to getĀ  out of denial. For a long time, I tried to convince myself that myĀ  situation was okay and that everything would be alright. I struggledĀ  with anxiety, with depression, and with many more problems.
With that being said, the story has a happy ending; I got closure andĀ  I now live a life where I am generally happy and motivated. My pointĀ  with this entire story is that sometimes our life experiences lead us toĀ  philosophies that serve as defence mechanisms. Nihilism, as well as theĀ  belief that free will does not exist, allowed me to tell myself, ā€œlifeĀ  is meaningless, and I have no control over my situationā€. Nihilism wasĀ  an escape. The rose-coloured glasses that I had been so accustomed toĀ  wearing had turned into dark-coloured glasses. I was seeing the worldĀ  through a completely different lens. When we feel that there is noĀ  meaning in life, itā€™s probably because something has gone terribly wrongĀ  in our lives.
Of course, this is not always the case. There are plenty of nihilistsĀ  out there that believe in nihilism because they believe it to be theĀ  most logical framework for understanding the world. However, asĀ  mentioned earlier in this article, logic is not the only way to go aboutĀ  looking for truth and examining topics such as the meaning of life;Ā  emotions and instincts are sometimes just as important. An obsessionĀ  with logic leads to skepticism. David Hume demonstrated this with ā€œtheĀ  problem of inductionā€. The problem of induction essentially explainsĀ  that nothing in the Universe can be proven for certainty. The problem ofĀ  induction, as mind-boggling as it is, demonstrates that the odds of theĀ  sun rising tomorrow are equal to the odds of the sun not risingĀ  tomorrow. That is the problem when we put logic on a pedestal and donā€™tĀ  consider other important factors.
Nihilism is not natural because it looks at the world through aĀ  pessimistic and defeatist lens, which is antithetical to how we areĀ  wired and to who we are as human beings. No baby is born a nihilist.Ā  Going back to Ayn Randā€™s quote, ā€œIt is not in the nature of manā€“nor ofĀ  any living entityā€“to start out by giving up, by spitting in oneā€™s ownĀ  face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whoseĀ  rapidity differs from man to man.ā€
With closure, with life experiences, with the process of slowlyĀ  improving, with information on how to deal with grief, and withĀ  knowledge on life and existence, I went from being a nihilist to theĀ  person I am today, the person I have always truly been; someone whoĀ  looks at the world with a glass half-full, someone who looks at theĀ  world with curiosity, wonder and love, and someone who believes inĀ  meaning, pursues meaning, and lives a life of meaning.
To further emphasize my point that life has meaning, and thatĀ  striving for meaning is natural and a core part of who we are, letā€™sĀ  look at the science. Psychologist Jordan Peterson talks about theĀ  orienting reflex in many of his lectures online. He explains that ourĀ  brain produces a very complex internal model of the world, and that ourĀ  senses produce a model of the external world. The hippocampus watchesĀ  those two models to see if they match, and if they donā€™t match, then aĀ  mismatch signal is created; the orienting reflex.
  • The orienting reflex is an organismā€™s immediate response to a change in its environment, when that change is not sudden enough to elicit the startle reflex. The orienting reflex is a reaction to novel or significant stimuli.
The orienting reflex essentially serves as a compass of meaning forĀ  us; it is an instrument that guides us through life. It is one of theĀ  deepest instincts that we have. The best way to articulate this point isĀ  by quoting one of my favorite authors and entrepreneurs, M. J. DeMarco:
  • ā€œYour soul will resonate its desires or discontent when faced with quiet or minimal distraction; for example, sleeping, showering, or during a massage. How are you responding to your soulā€™s voice? Is it denied? Ignored? Muzzled with the intense demand of meaningless work? Distracted by a television? Honored?ā€
When we are wasting time and when we are indulging in behaviours andĀ  activities that lack meaning, that are unnatural, and that areĀ  antithetical to growth, our orienting reflex will let us know. It is ourĀ  responsibility to listen to our voice, to accept the mistakes thatĀ  weā€™ve made, and to take steps towards the right direction. Life isĀ  filled with meaning. We must open our eyes and we must embrace thisĀ  meaning. Meaning is a core part of who we are, and we must live inĀ  accordance to the instincts and purposes that have been explained andĀ  analyzed in this article. Furthermore, we must also not followĀ  philosophies and ideas blindly and dogmatically, and we must understandĀ  that the journey of life and the journey of meaning is unique to each ofĀ  us.
This article was a collection of thoughts from some of the greatestĀ  thinkers of all time, as well as my own thoughts and my attempt toĀ  synthesize all of this information. It is worth noting that someoneĀ  might read this article and not agree with everything. That is okay, andĀ  it is completely normal. Each of us are at a different stage in ourĀ  process of life, and we come from different environments and haveĀ  different genetics. Despite the objective nature of some of these ideas,Ā  the way I view life and the way you view life will not always be theĀ  same. Two of the most important skills one can have are self-awarenessĀ  and critical thinking. If we are able to understand ourselves and ourĀ  thought process, and if we are able to question ourselves and toĀ  question the world, then we have what it takes to grow as human beingsĀ  and to tackle difficult questions such as ā€œwhat is the meaning of life?

The Goal is Resonance
The goal is resonance. Nothing is better than resonance. If you have a billion dollars, you are still seeking resonance. If you are well respected, you are still seeking resonance. If you are enlightened, you are still seeking resonance. Even Buddha was seeking resonance. Why else would he share his teachings with others? Resonance is the peak of the human experience.
notion image
Artist: London Tsai
Resonance is feeling understood. It is improvization. Banter. A jamming session. Youā€™re playing music with others and they are building on it.
But isnā€™t the goal enlightenment? Going to the hills and meditating? The point of meditating in the hills is to feel oneness with humanity; in fact, oneness with everything. You feel a similar oneness when you laugh at a friendā€™s joke or they laugh at yours.
When two people work on a shared project ā€“ a joke, gossip, a product, an essay ā€“ and are able to understand and build on each other, thatā€™s the peak of the human condition.
Resonance is being in flow state but with another person.
To find resonance, you need to create. Any creation is an act of tapping a tuning fork and seeing who resonates. Creation is the risk. Resonance is the reward.
We are alone in our minds. At best, we can describe what we feel using symbols and objects. We feel resonance only when we somehow convert those symbols and objects into something authentic and understandable to another person. Itā€™s magical when it works.
Some seek resonance with people after they die. Hilma af Klint was a Swedish artist who wanted her work to be released twenty years after her death. She sought resonance with people who werenā€™t born yet.
Creation helps you find friends, partners, and collaborators. Some people build rockets and attract people who resonate with a civilization on Mars. But all creation need not be intimidating. Sending your friend a funny meme counts.
There is at least one person out there who wants this specific version of you ā€“ your current state of mind, feelings, and interests. Creation helps you find that person.